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Cancer Patient denied transplant due to Medical Marijuana use

Cancer is a far reaching health issue that has probably had an impact on all of our lives at some point in time.  According to Cancer.org, there are over 11,000,000 people in the United States living with invasive cancer.  The site also indicates that in 2010, there were approximately 569,490 deaths caused by cancer in the United States.

The issues presented in this article are not cut and dry and will certainly not be solved in the next few paragraphs.  The focus will be on Norman Smith who finds himself in an unfortunate and unique situation.  Smith is in desperate need for a liver transplant.  He was on a waiting list for the procedure but was taken off by doctors because Smith is a medical marijuana user and did not show up for a drug test.  To get back on the waiting list, Smith would have to cease his medical marijuana use for six months and submit to drug testing.  Joe Elford, Smith’s legal representative and an attorney for the well known group Americans for Safe Access stated that any additional delays could be the “difference between life and death.”  Smith described his situation by saying “”I have inoperable cancer. If I don’t get a transplant, the candle’s lit and it’s a short fuse.”  The United Network for Organ Sharing has indicated that there are no standard procedures on medical marijuana use and organ transplants.  In this case Cedars-Sinai Medical is free to make whatever distinctions they see fit in determining this process.

This is not a simple issue as our hearts certainly are with Mr. Smith and hopefully he can receive the organ transplant in enough time to save his life.  Cedar-Sinai is not in an envious position.  Making the decision is much more difficult than writing about it.  A sad reality is that there usually are never enough organs available to match the demand.  Cedar-Sinai is likely always faced with tough choices.  Standing in line next to Norman Smith may be someone who followed every regulation and is also faced with a potentially fatal scenario.  Mr. Smith did not follow their laws and with missing his drug test other harmful substances in his system cannot be ruled out.  However, Mr. Smith also has complications with chemotherapy and he has found relief through marijuana use.   Additionally, if Cedar-Sinai considers Norman Smith to have a substance abuse problem with marijuana, then is it fair to say that this prevents him from receiving treatment?  Often people think of substance abuse as out of the user’s control, so to penalize someone for that could be considered harsh.
Finally, let us not forget that it is always possible that marijuana is an unfair target.  Would a coffee drinker be denied a cardiac procedure if he or she were unable to kick a Dunkin Donuts habit?  Of course many would say “well marijuana is not totally legal and caffeine is.”  This statement is not incorrect but that is more a matter of ink on legal documents.  The comparison is still intriguing.  One important fact to come out of this situation is that medical marijuana users may have to be conscious of the policies that their medical facility operates under.  This is in no way to blame Mr. Smith as it likely has not occurred to many people to investigate this matter.  Hopefully, future breakthroughs in stem cells or organ cloning would eliminate the debate on this topic.  In the meantime, Norman Smith, we wish you the best and hopefully any attention you garner can result in a speedy recovery.

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15 Responses to “Cancer Patient denied transplant due to Medical Marijuana use”

  1. avatar
    y2tweed December 6, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    wow, thats tough situation. medical marijuana should not preclude anyone from a transplant, tough situation cuz i read he was a recovering alcoholic too, so missing his drug test to see whats in his system hurts his case, get well dude!

  2. avatar
    Twistedsista December 6, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    I wonder if the same penalty applies to someone who wasn’t a medical marijuana user, but missed the appointment as well.

  3. avatar
    ProfGreenBud December 6, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    Wow, I didn’t realize there were so many people living with cancer. Shouldn’t doctor’s be able to give their patients anything at their disposal to improve a patients health? Did his cancer doctor prescribe medical marijuana? If so, why can’t he vouch for his patient that marijuana is a neccessary course of treatment for his chemo? Tough situation here. As a patient awaiting a life saving organ, they should follow the rules, but how can they get through the rigors of chemo therapy for 6 months with out relief from mmj?

  4. avatar
    Strain Master December 6, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    This opens up a whole new discussion on Medical Marijuana. Perhaps if it were declassified federally, then medical boards may be more open to accept MMJ as a legitimate treatment for cancer. As a schedule 1 drug, Marijuana is considered “of no medical benefit”. Perhaps this could be a springboard to get everyone behind reclassification. Unfortunately, for this patient, any new changes may be too late.

  5. avatar
    Bongholio December 6, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    Sad for this guy. Fortunately he does have Medical pot because he can smoke himself into a better state of mind than having to wonder how many days you have left.

  6. avatar
    Bumblebee83 December 6, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    I’m sure the stress from this ordeal isn’t helping his condition either. There’s clearly a need for organization within the mmj industry and state policy.

  7. avatar
    Daytimetoker December 6, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    I think because of the nature of the situation and the demand for these transplants they will look for any reason at all to move on to the next candidate. Its possible that missing your scheduled drug test is reason enough not to give him the transplant given any crazy circumstance of course, but why does he have to stop using medical marijuana to submit to be put on the list again? what if it helps his chemo or like bongholio said just not think about the impending doom! The sad thing is your probably right, there will be a time when the idea of marijuana being a schedule 1 drug will seem archaic and ridiculous, kinda like its getting to be today, but we are not there yet, and most likely will not be for this guy to not have to pay the ultimate price in the face of ignorance, or really stubbornness at this point.

  8. avatar
    Sir SmokesAlot December 6, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

    It seems like its one appointment this guys really should not have missed, but best of luck to him…

  9. avatar
    Pakalolo December 6, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    Man that sucks. There he is, dying slowly of an inoperable disease and the one bit of relief for his pain is what excludes him from medical treatment. Meanwhile the morons in the legislature have excellent health care and don’t need to worry about drug testing. How is it that I need to worry about random testing when all i do is sell snorkel trips, but those guys who are busy ‘running the country’ have unfettered access to every pharmacological substance on the planet?

  10. avatar
    Shapeshifter And Moonolgy December 7, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    I guess that’s the way the government says “go F!@# yourself because you are too smart to take pharmacueticals and that’s why we can’t give you the transplant because your going against our government ways”

  11. avatar
    consultor December 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    Shouldn’t have missed the test.I believe that he would still be on the list but they need to check for other dangerous chemicals in his system. There should be some research to see if any other medical marijuana users have been denied transplants.It is still a sticky issue but it is not insurmountable.

  12. avatar
    cancersurvivor December 7, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    He is being denied because he missed the test! My oncologist at Cornell Medical told me to get medical Marijuana for nausea from chemo. I know that if I ever needed a transplant Ashe would fight for me as would Mr.Smiths. If you want the gift you have to lay by the rules.As other Comments agree someone who follows the rules should get the gift.As consulter said he would probably still neon the list if he took the test

  13. avatar
    professor December 7, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    Mr.Smith will not get the transplant because he missed the test and is using marijuana. any facility that is funded by federal grants or state and local taxes will not be able to consider him because under current federal law he is a type 1 drug and illegal. Just another valid reason for Federal relief on medical marijuana.

  14. avatar
    Burnt Toast and Rye Crisp December 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    Holy Moly, poor guy…if I were in that situation, I would freak the hell out. If medical marijuana was the only thing that would alleviate my pain, would I have thought twice?

  15. avatar
    Mel From The Alps December 7, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    Maybe he shoudn’t have missed his appointment.

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